HEADS are falling off. Not at a title challenge or anything that actually makes real sense. Oh no, we’re sat top of the league, scoring goals for fun and things look great but there’s a common thread that the world is ending and that Philippe Coutinho has already signed for Barcelona.
Of course, he has a contract that doesn’t expire until 2020 and reportedly has no Luis Suarez-style release clause that means we aren’t prey to the Barcelona or Real Madrid vultures that would rightly circle a player of his undoubted class. There’s not even a real rumour that Barcelona are actually in for him, people have just decided that he’s really good at football and Barcelona sign really good players and voila, Liverpool are going to have £60million-plus with which to buy some new players.
Well, if we do have to sell him, so what? Football in recent times has turned into a big chain with which there are numerous levels. Level one features Barcelona and Real Madrid. They sign the best footballers from any team they want and, if they have to, they’ll pay lots of money. I’d love it if Liverpool were able to do that. At the minute we’re probably in bracket number three.
Bracket two has got Manchester United, Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain in it – clubs with huge money, recent big success or guaranteed Champions League football. Ok, that doesn’t quite work in the case of Manchester United but given they paid a World Record transfer fee three months ago you’d be hard pushed to argue that they didn’t fit into that bracket. I think they’re the only club that could potentially break into that top echelon.
We find ourselves in the third pot alongside the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Juventus, Atlético Madrid, and Borussia Dortmund. It really isn’t the worst company to be in, is it? Would I rather be higher up the football hierarchy, though? Absolutely right I would, but given what we’ve been through in the last 10 years it could be a hell of a lot worse.
Barcelona and Real Madrid can sign anyone they want. Anyone. Manchester United had just won three league titles on the bounce in the summer of 2009, while they’d also just failed to defend their Champions League title against Barcelona. They were quite clearly one of the best sides in Europe at the time, and obviously a huge club to boot. But when Real Madrid came calling, what happened to Cristiano Ronaldo? He ended up getting on the first flight out of Ringway and signing for Real Madrid.
It’s easier for us both as a club and as a set of fans if we accept this is a component of the game of football. It might sound grim to sell your best players to better teams, and it is in a way, but at the same time I want to watch the best footballers that I possibly can wearing the red shirt. I don’t spend thousands a year to want to watch Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing. God that was a hard few years. To watch these you have to acknowledge and grudgingly accept that they wouldn’t want to stay at Anfield forever. We’re clearly one of the world’s biggest clubs, of that there is no doubt but there are more appealing options to footballers than Liverpool.
And that’s absolutely fine. We should be aiming to keep Coutinho for as long as possible because he is brilliant. But at the same time if he turns around and says he wants to go to Barcelona or Real Madrid it would not be for the best in the long-term if we stood in his way. If he turned around and said he wanted to go to Arsenal, as Luis Suarez did in 2013, then he should be told where to go. The club’s handling of that situation was absolutely fantastic.
I categorically can’t accept that any Liverpool player should want to go to the clubs I mentioned that I feel we’re on a parallel with, nor that the club should even countenance it as a possibility.
Sounding like we’re a doormat and a feeder club to Barcelona and Real may well sound like a defeatist, negative position to be in, but we have to think about these things sensibly. If there’s a very good 23-year-old footballer knocking around and he’s seen that Liverpool have developed Suarez and Coutinho into two of the world’s best footballers, who’ve gone on to play at the absolutely highest level, we increase our chances of signing more of these young, talented footballers. Eventually we might even get to a point where we’re that good at football they don’t want to leave, but that would be a fair way off if we’re being honest.
If we then stand in their way when they want to go to another level then that may well see these players choose another option. We sometimes have to separate our thoughts as fans to those as footballers. Luis Suarez used us; we were a step up from Ajax on his long-term plan of getting to the very top. He had no connection to Liverpool before he came here so why should he think about us in the same way that Steven Gerrard would?
I’d rather have four years of these footballers and then move them on to Barcelona or Real than never see them at all. Think how much joy Suarez gave you – it was better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, wasn’t it? In quite a lot of ways football is emotionless. Footballers earning millions a year don’t really care about the club. They want to win trophies and to achieve as much as they can from their short careers, while earning as much money as they possibly can to set them up for life.
If Liverpool want to be the best, we have to attract the best footballers we can. I listen to some people and the way they talk about Barcelona looking at our players and get a bit confused. It’s like they’d rather not have the stress of watching good footballers.
We’ve seen some absolute garbage play for Liverpool in the last 10 years, garbage that won’t be good enough to win us league titles or get us to the end of April still in the European Cup and truth be told, I’ve had enough. I want the best players possible. If Barcelona want to sign them then fantastic.
You can have the relative safety of no club that we should aspire to be, or we can watch great footballers playing great football with the possibility that one day a really good football team might want to buy some really good footballers and they might have to leave.
And you know what? If they do, the world won’t stop turning, Liverpool Football Club won’t cease to exist, we’ll just get some other players in, players who would be coming to Liverpool because they themselves are top class footballers. We didn’t sign Suarez or Coutinho when they were top class. We signed them long before that point in their respective careers and we developed them into the footballers that they are today.
Get really good scouts and continue this as a chain. Maybe at one point we’ll be able to prey on some of Europe’s really good teams ourselves. Aspire to be the best but accept that there’s a hierarchy. If we prepare for this situation as opposed to pretending that it doesn’t exist we’ll be all the better for it in the long-term. As much as football is about what happens today you’re always trying to make sure that your future is rosy.
So, chill out, enjoy the ride and if one day Philippe Coutinho replaces Andres Iniesta then so be it. You can’t influence any of this so just enjoy watching an absolute master at work while he’s here as opposed to being concerned that a day will come when he’s no longer wearing red, because footballers aren’t for life.
Having said all of this, it would be great if he was still here in 10 years time with multiple league titles and Champions League winners’ medals, though, wouldn’t it?